If you looked–really looked—at the 2016 Toyota Camry, you wouldn’t expect the leggy girls in short dresses who get into the clubs for free to climb out of it. It’s humbler than that. Maybe if the leggy girl got hitched and then moved out to the suburbs, maybe. And that’s why I like it so much.
(Full disclosure: The 2016 Toyota Camry was the only car Hertz had left after my flight got canceled. Toyota spent exactly zero money for me to have it. In fact, Toyota wasn’t even aware that I had it and I paid $900 to drive it for the weekend. So you could say that this opinion hasn’t been bought.)
Last December, I drove across state lines to attend Christmas at her parents’ place. Last weekend, I drove back across those same state lines in the Camry, returning from a funeral. At highway speeds, the luxurious interior, with its buttery and hand stitched leather, was a well-needed escape. The substantial steering wheel, which I worried periodically between my thumbs and forefingers, was made from smooth, uncomplaining plastic. That was a nice touch.
I didn’t turn on the radio, even though its controls were very conveniently located on the center console. I wanted to hear the mechanical whir of the four-cylinder engine, take in how the revs came to rest neatly at 2458 rpms at 80 mph. But even the quiet hum of the engine didn’t do a good enough job to quell the pointed silence coming from the empty passenger seat, occupied by only my weekend bag and whispering ghosts that remained just out of sight.
The truth was, I needed a place to think and the little Camry was the perfect place for it. When the people I used to know saw me again after all those years, they didn’t even need to ask what had happened. They only needed to see the haunted look my gaze had taken on to know. To understand. I glanced in the rearview mirror—took in the premature lines that now crinkled the skin around my eyes—and marveled at how extraordinarily good the rearward visibility was.
In an age where C-pillars are fattened up to give a car and sporty and lunging look, rearward visibility has been more than halved. I’m glad to report that the Camry has kept the pillars skinny. Not in an unsexy, anorexic kind of skinny. A healthy skinny whose cheat days included Goldfish crackers kept fresh in a Folgers coffee can, tucked neatly behind the flax seed and all-natural granola in the pantry. I didn’t even know if there were any of the little orange fish left in the can, it had been so long since I last checked.
As I walked back toward the car after purchasing a decaf coffee from a pimply teenager who looked vaguely like a pot addict from the gas station, the sky overhead darkened with the impending nighttime and, I grimly noted, the weight of what I was retuning from. But there the Camry was, right where I had parked it two minutes before. Its non-offensive styling stood out in the gathering gloom. While I lit my fourth cigarette and absently snubbed out the others beneath the heel of my boot, I realized I rather liked the new Toyota corporate front, which can also be seen on the rare and unobtainable Lexus IS sedans.
I will complain, though, that getting back on the highway from an on ramp proved to be difficult for the Camry. The dogged acceleration is slow to 60 and takes more effort than getting a bartender’s attention on a Saturday night when you’re not a 21-year-old, bright-eyed coed.
My mother always told me that I had a soul of a sphinx—ancient beyond my years—and this kind of phantasmic anthropomorphism was closest to the surface during the early days of my marriage. When we belonged to no one and everyone belonged to us. When the trainwreck of my life choices hadn’t quite caught up with me yet. When I was free.
One thing is for sure, though, when life gives you a long road trip to the very ends of the earth, do it in a Camry. It’s a solid car for the price (cheap) and you’ll spend way more time on the road than filling up at the gas station like most other people do. The mileage really is that great.
I was sad when I pulled up to the rental counter desk at the end of my drive. I wasn’t ready to part with the car yet. As the attendant pulled it away, I found myself staring after it, mesmerized by the loving red glow of its tail lights, streaking in the gauzy night air like scarlet lipstick. It might not be a comparable BMW or Porsche, but for those few hours in my life, it was good to me. That was all I could really ask for.